Archive for the ‘grief’ Category

Humankind have been obsessed with the idea of immortality and living forever for centuries, according to Adam Gollner in The Book of Immortality: The Science, Belief, and Magic Behind Living Forever:

Gollner tells us the twenty-five-year old Emperor Ai died in 365 CE, after overdosing on longevity drugs. In medieval times, they thought the answer lay in the moss that grew on hanged men’s skulls. And, David Copperfield has an archipelago in the Bahamas, where the magician claims to have found “a liquid that reverses genes.”

Why are people fascinated by immortality? Is it because we’re afraid of death?

Watching my father go through a life-threatening illness in the past fortnight has instigated many thoughts on mortality for me. It’s been an interesting ride. Everyone knows their parents will die, as we all will die and so will everything alive at this moment. However, mental knowledge is a very different animal to seeing and experiencing it for yourself.015I understood to some extent what people have felt in the past about wanting to cling to life as long as possible.

In the 1300’s Nicolas Flamel created a “sorcerer’s stone” which was said to make the drinker immortal. In the 1500s Ponce de León, discoverer of Florida, is rumoured to also have set out in search of Bimini, a legendary island in the Bahamas. Long sea voyages of discovery in those days cost vast fortunes to finance. Why did he go? Because the fabled ‘Fountain of Youth’ was said to be on Bimini. It was believed the Fountain of Youth ‘gave everlasting life to all who drank from it.’

 

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We can laugh at those from the past. Yet, when you think about it, as author Adam Gollner pointed out, we each take a modern version of magical elixir every day in order to prolong and hopefully preserve our lives. ‘We’ve tried elixirs, hormones, prayers, pills, spells, stem cells.’

I myself take vitamins and pills. It’s no wonder the health supplement industry is one of the biggest growth areas today.

Why are we afraid of death?

I guess we fear dissolution. When I thought I was witnessing my father dying, I faced my own mortality. I saw it and felt it all around me. It felt confronting and a little scary.

Yet, there is freedom in surrender.

I said to myself, ‘death is an inevitable thing.’ I felt the comfort of being present with it in a quiet way. I released into the emotion of love for my father and love for my own life. That brought me into feeling a lot more appreciation of this wonderful moment right now.

I remember an old friend of the family said to me once, ‘Acceptance is the hardest word in the English language.’

Ever since, I’ve come to realize how wise that statement was. In the middle of being there for my father through his scrape with death, I wept and wept. I struggled to accept that this could be our final goodbye. It was only when I was able to accept his mortality and therefore, my own that I found the relief of coming back to ground zero. I felt that was the gem amidst the grief.

Since then my father has made a miraculous recovery. He has successfully made the transition home, where he is now doing well, recovering rapidly.

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In the wake of ten days fear and worry and tears at my father’s bedside, I feel I understand my own drive for a longer life. I empathise with my ancestors’ quest for immortality, and yet, at the same time, I have a new feeling of acceptance for death. Happily, these things have gone hand-in-hand because, while exhausted, I feel great serenity. I have a sense that I can cope.

In ancient times, our forebears went to extremes. I was quite shocked reading in Gollner’s book that members of the Tang dynasty poisoned themselves taking untested potions. Apparently, people trekked into the Himalayas seeking the restorative powers of drinking pure llama urine, bathed in the blood of murdered virgins, and concocted saline solutions with the ash of dead bodies and myrrh.

Even in our modern, technologically advanced era people are still obsessed with anti-aging. Plastic surgery has never been more popular. There’s research being done into cryogenics and prolonging life.

Yet, when you come right down to it, acceptance is a far easier option. It costs less. It’s less stressful, which leads to inner beauty, to having a happier life and greater equilibrium while you’re here. Win, win.

My father’s health scare was a reminder to me that life is short and time is fleeting. I made a mental note: must gather together with loved ones and have more parties!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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The only secret people keep is immortality. ~ Emily Dickinson

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This year my father’s 85th birthday passed by with dad seriously ill in hospital, suffering double pneumonia. If a person is a smoker, the rate of mortality from this illness among the elderly is high. As a non-smoker, and also a relatively fit person, dad’s chances of survival were better than average.

Nevertheless, none of the facts take the edge off, when you see your father that close to the final curtain. I remember how in those first moments of my first visit, when I saw his face with the cheeks sunken in towards his gaping mouth, I felt my heart clench. A keener sense of reality accompanied it. I felt even more love than usual for my father.

10599505_10202530643248555_4175807170543700148_nThat was a week ago.

Dad’s still recovering in hospital. The family has taken shifts to sit with him and my elder sisters are with him now. I shudder at the thought of what lies ahead. The shadow at the dinner party. The ghost at the gate. The pitch darkness that lies beyond the horizon.

It’s only been two years since my mother died. She passed away blissfully in her sleep, June 25, 2015, just four months shy of what would have been my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. It reminded me never to bank on tomorrow. My teacher always says to ‘live as if death’s at your shoulder’ because it is.

It’s winter here in New Zealand, and it seems fitting to face these thoughts at this quieter time of year. As without so within and all that jazz.

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It’s also the first week of the school holidays.

Normally, my brother and I would take our kids to stay with dad for some of the break. It was so great to see the kids get to do all sorts of adventurous things outside in the fresh air on those visits, stretching their legs and their wings as boys need to do.

Even my boy with Down’s syndrome, Sam-the-man, who gets quite put out by any changes to routine, always welcomed the chance to spend quality time with his grandfather. Sam appreciated that his grandfather would sit and take the time to play cards and board games and patiently explain the rules.

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In Sam’s writing books, brought home from school at the end of each year, I noticed the words ‘Grandpa,’ ‘beach,’ and ‘sandcastles’ cropped up in his stories often.

We’ve had a special time and there are many wonderful memories.

These holidays, instead of going to the beach, the boys and I travelled to spend a couple of days sitting beside grandpa in hospital. We make the next visit soon.

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It’s sad to see an old tree fall. This profoundly good man has sacrificed a great deal for his family. He has given selflessly to all around him. Now, all he asks is to go home. While he is still very weak, we’re hopeful that one day, he will return home, at least in some capacity.

In a few days, the boys and I take our next turn at grandpa-sitting.

My sisters say dad’s health has improved.

We might not have noted dad’s birthday as we’ve done before. But as soon as he’s home we will celebrate.

We’ve remembered life goes on. Hope springs. And the human spirit is irrepressible. Thank goodness, no matter how many crazy despots come into power, life does go on. And I’m reminded of those sage words someone said once long ago; it’s never too late to bake a cake. 🙂 Words to live by.

Love you, dad. Happy Birthday!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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 “If you’re distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” – M. Aurelius

 

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A reality bloomed before us yesterday…one I didn’t want to see…that shocked me to my very core. My father is mortal. The superhero of our family – our fearless leader – who has never spent a day in hospital, apart from when he got bowled over by a truck, is lying in a hospital bed at death’s door.

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As dad said when he was still lucid, ‘I never get sick. I’ve never had anything wrong with me.’ He couldn’t understand why people started to fuss over him in his town a few weeks ago. A few worried reports filtered in, that dad’s colour wasn’t right; he was ‘looking blue.’

When I rang to check on him, Dad said he’d had flu for about four weeks. I said he must see a doctor in the morning. He promised he would.

My sister rang the next morning to check on him. She found dad was panting and fighting for breath. He still refused to see a doctor. Nevertheless an ambulance and friends in the community raced to side. My father is so fiercely independent (as the nurses keep telling us, also) that he fought being taken away by the ambulance. He didn’t want to go, and had to be persuaded in no uncertain terms.

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My father was transferred to Waikato Hospital HDU where he could be put on oxygen and have his levels monitored. The doctors said he had pneumonia in both lungs which accounted for his difficulty breathing.

In talking to him, dad admitted he’d “been a bit wobbly” for a few weeks when getting his firewood. He said he “had been struggling a little.” That’s understated dad-language for ‘I’m desperately ill and have been struggling a lot.’ No wonder the other people in his town were concerned.

I travelled to Waikato Hospital yesterday, along with my eldest son, and we were in for a shock. I saw dad’s mortality written across his face, and for the first time I faced the fact we could lose him.

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Holding dad’s hand, I stretched one of Ma’s crocheted blankets across his lap. He was counting erratic sequences of numbers in his half-sleep. His normally brown eyes, when he opened them, looked murky blue.

My superman had landed. I could have wept a thousand tears. But I had to hold it together for my son and my niece. I’m sure my father doesn’t want to see us grieving before he’s even gone, either.

Unfortunately, because it went on so long, dad let himself get very sick, and at this point, he is still no better.

Bless him, we were told he is a “flight risk” even so. He keeps trying to leave the hospital to go home. While we were there, if he wasn’t sleeping, then every few minutes he’d check his watch and say, “It’s time to go.” He was feeling anxious because he hadn’t laid the fire and ‘needed to get home to collect the wood.’ Yet, being so wobbly, he can’t go anywhere without a walking frame and someone holding him.

It was hard to leave dad at the hospital. I’ll take my younger boys to see him tomorrow.

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The call has gone out to the family. The time has come to gather from various points on the earth. We just need to focus on supporting dad through this and surrounding him with love. So that’s where our energy goes at this time, being there with him, no matter what.

We’re still praying he can recover and return to his beloved hometown. But, as one of my young nephews so sagely said, ‘Grandpa will never be able to go back to the way things were before.’ As a family, we have turned a corner. It’s just that none of us know which corner we’ve taken.

How do I approach the decline of this great man? Step by step. Moment by moment. There is no other way to do it than to let one’s heart be broken, petal by petal. That’s what it is to love, to surrender to the process of life. Yet, in all its suffering there is still sweetness and divinity. On the drive home from Waikato, the setting sun rimmed a burst of clouds with gold and sent out long apricot-yellow “fingers of God” into the deep blue sky. The scene was overwhelming in its pure magnificence. I looked with joy and I wept with tears of grief for my father.

How do we approach all of life with the same equilibrium? That’s something I’m currently pondering on…your thoughts are welcome!

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Talk to you later…

Keep Writing!

Yvette K. Carol

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‘The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart.’ ~ E.B.White

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My mother passed away a year ago, today.

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When my brother rang me on the afternoon of June 25th, 2015, I was in the driveway, unpacking groceries from the car. I remember it was grey and overcast; I noticed the clouds and made a mental note to get the washing off the line. As I lifted out two bags of groceries, with my ear pressed to the phone wedged between my ear and my shoulder, I heard my brother say, ‘Have you heard the news? Mum died.’

‘What?’

‘She passed away in her sleep.’

‘@3$56&!’ I dropped the bags.

‘I know. This morning Dad woke up and tried to resuscitate her. When he couldn’t wake her up, he called for an ambulance.’

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My brother says I was swearing like a sailor. I don’t remember it. Goodness knows what the neighbours thought.

Ma was in her eighties, a survivor of six “mini strokes,” it was not unexpected. Yet, the news still hit me like a ten pound weight to the chest.

In the year preceding, my mother had taken to talking a lot about dying.

On one visit, she was talking about her departure and I felt this need to truly thank her for everything. I thanked her for letting me return home and pursue my dream of being a writer in the early years. When I gave up freelance journalism at the age of 25, to pursue my dream of being a writer, my parents let me return home for a few years. Ma had always believed in me. I said I wanted her to stick around and see my first book published. I wanted that full circle moment, not just for me, but for the three of us.

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So, when my brother rang me with the news, I thought, she can’t have died, our milestone moment hasn’t happened yet. No full circle moment. Life sucks sometimes.

Now that a year has passed since that day my family’s life changed forever, it’s a different kind of grief. It’s softer, not as sharp-edged. It’s settled onto a deeper level. Someone said somewhere that it was the little things they missed about their mother the most. I have found this to be true.

A woman who had talked our hind legs off her entire life, with whom we could never get a word in edgewise, had turned into a focused and intently interested listener in the last five years or so of her life. As I said in my eulogy, ‘She had moved on from only ever being the one doing the talking, to being the one who could also sit and listen.’

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Mum had developed a real keen interest in my stories. She would ask and then really pay attention to me spinning my worlds. Mum had a childlike way of going there with me, which was deeply rewarding.

I miss our conversations. I miss her bright, watching eyes. I miss her laugh. I miss her spontaneous silly moments. I miss her sudden silly dancing. I even miss her crochet!

The loss of a parent is a cumulative sadness. I think my friend, author, James Preller expressed the compound nature of grief for a parent best, in a recent post on Facebook, when he said,

A day late, but this is my old man. I find that the day he died was not so bad; these things happen; but I miss him more now, feel it more now, ten years later. The missing accumulates, sedimentary, takes on heft over time. That weighty absence. And yet, and yet, an enduring presence too. My father. Still here, still gone.

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The “weighty absence yet, enduring presence” is such poetry. I couldn’t possibly improve on this as a way of encapsulating my feelings about my mother, who passed away a year ago today.

I rang my father this morning, we spoke for a while. He’s okay. We’re okay. Yet, his wife of 65 years is gone. Ma’s still mourned. Still missed. Still loved.

On this, the first anniversary of her transition, my mother is, as James said, still here, still gone.

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Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Raising children is one of the most significant things that a person can do. It matters a tremendous amount, and women who choose to do it should be held in high esteem. ~ Paul Rosenberg

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In the balmy, festive last days before Christmas, 2015, a friend I’d known for 30 years died of liver cancer. We had visited Lyall/Ella and I remember sitting with her. She said, “My liver’s shot, everything’s shot.” I said, “I’m so sorry.” Ella said, “It only hurts when I cry.” I said, “Then, I’ll cry for you.” And we had a hug and bit of a weep together.

She died two days later.

When I returned to the city, I went to visit with her wife. We sat with Ella’s ashes, looking at old photos between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Therefore, this year began on a sombre note and a special light had gone back to the cosmos.

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Today is St. Patrick’s Day in New Zealand. March 17th is also the birthday of my brother’s first wife, the irreplaceable Tanya, mother of Anthony and Daniel. Tanya died fourteen years ago, in the hospital after becoming suddenly paralysed and ending up in Intensive Care.

Every year, when St. Paddy’s day comes around, I think of Tanya. I missed her a lot today. I think it was finding the right pictures to go with my blog post and remembering her so clearly that I wept for her again. The hardest thing about getting older is losing people. It’s really tough. However I think the acceptance comes around more quickly as well.

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On June 25 of this year, my family will be gathering for the first year anniversary of our family matriarch’s passing. We are going to do the unveiling of Ma’s tombstone, and we’ll probably, let’s face it, drink quite a lot. We will definitely eat a lot and we’ll remember Ma, in all her glory, we’ll repeat the stories. We’ll talk about what was funny, and what we miss the most. We may even dance “The Gnu!”

I rationalise that it is because of these circumstances that I’ve been feeling weepy lately. I’ve been letting a little rain fall to release the sadness. There’s nothing wrong with feeling the love for those we’ve loved and lost. All this has brought me to thinking about loss. About how it has the power to absolutely stop us and the world in its tracks.

My brother tells me that when he rang to give me the news of Ma’s death, I swore like a sailor repeatedly throughout the next five minutes of our conversation, yet I have no memory of it.

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In 1969, Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book, On Death and Dying, postulated a series of emotional stages experienced by survivors of an intimate’s death.

The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

The model was inspired by her work with terminally ill patients, according to Wikipedia.

‘Although in later years, Kübler-Ross claimed these stages do not necessarily come in order, nor are all stages experienced by all patients.

She stated, however, that a person always experiences at least two of the stages.

Often, people experience several stages in a “roller coaster” effect—switching between two or more stages, returning to one or more several times before working through it.[3] Women are more likely than men to experience all five stages.[3]

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I’ve definitely gone through the stages of denial and bargaining. After that, I think I skipped a couple of stages and jumped straight to acceptance. I really do feel a great soothing sense of peace in my soul around my mother’s passing and I think the whole family would agree.

Mum had become very fearful about dying in her later years, afraid she would suffer, and she was forcibly resistant to the idea of going into care. After suffering five strokes in the five years before her death, however her quality of life was going downhill and her mind wasn’t what it once had been.

Yet, despite all her anxiety, and her frailty, she managed to stay in her own home with dad looking after her right to the end. Ma really did “pass away peacefully in her sleep.” Her ending was such a comfort for us all, especially my father. Though it was hard for him, he knew it really was for the best. We can remember her the right way. So I do feel a great sense of acceptance and that helps.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone.

Who are you missing today?

 

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Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” ~  Seuss

“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” ~ Mae West

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